never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
It’s amazing when the things you’ve taught your children come back to you and bring you comfort.
My grandmother died last week. She was ninety-seven, and had lived a good, long life. But the last year and a half had been difficult, as she had suffered with dementia and struggled to connect with those she loved. Despite the fact that my kids had seen her only once a year when we would travel to Chicago, they developed a relationship with her through pictures and stories. We kept her with us through drawings and prayers.
When I told Adeline and Keegan that Ninny (the name my grandma Jinni had been given by my cousin forty years ago), had gone to heaven, Adeline cried and Keegan cried. Adeline set to putting her feelings into drawings for me to take to Ninny’s burial. They said things like, “I’ll always love you,” and “I miss you.” Keegan lied awake that first night with sadness and questions. He wanted to know why she wouldn’t wake up. He wanted to know if she’d really hear him if he tried to talk to her in heaven. I soothed him with hugs and assured him that Ninny would hear his words and watch over him always.
The next morning I was making breakfast when I heard Keegan ask Adeline, “Do you think Ninny is happy in heaven or do you think she wishes she were still here?” I froze at the sink and swallowed hard the lump in my throat. Adeline answered without hesitation, “I’m sure she’s happy; she gets to be our angel now!” With that they both popped into their chairs to await waffles and fruit. They were accepting that Ninny would now be their angel, and there didn’t seem to be much room for sadness within that.
My sadness comes in waves, but Adeline’s words comfort me – she is happy, our angel. But then let me tell you, she’s always been our angel.
My Ninny believed in life. When times were tough, she carried forward, never losing her beautiful smile. She celebrated nature, delighting in a single bloom on a rose bush or taking comfort in the weeping willows. Her devotion to her children was something powerful – her strength of spirit as a single mother was only matched by the love and joy she experienced as a mom. She was tender, brave, and beautiful. No matter what you carried with you, she’d make the load feel less of a burden with a listening ear, a warm cup of tea or a soft hug.
As a child it seemed to me that she always had treasures for me to find. A fancy pin in an old jewelry box, rosary beads tucked into a velvet pouch or old dusty books to pull off a top shelf and share. She was the grandmother who brought magic to imaginary tea parties, birthdays, recitals, airports, long car rides, certainly Christmas… and any ordinary day. Every time I called my Ninny and she heard my voice, she’d say, “Is this my Chris?” And I’d feel her magic working it’s way on my world.
One of my favorite memories of my grandmother is so strong that it seems to sweep me back in time to a night when I was eight years old. I was staying the night at her house and having difficulty falling asleep. So she took me to the kitchen where she warmed some milk on the stove and served it to me in a little china cup. And then she held me in the big armchair in her living room, smoothing my hair with her hands, telling me, “Everything is alright,” and singing softly until I grew tired. When she brought me back to bed and tucked the covers in tight, she whispered, “Goodnight, sweetheart, Goodnight.” There was no room for fears or sleeplessness then. She embodied great maternal love.
These last years as I watched my Ninny begin her journey home, many times I have longed for her voice to answer the phone, “Is this my Chris?” Many times I have longed for her to smooth my hair and tell me, “Everything is alright.” Now, as much as I know I’ll miss her here in this world, I am comforted thinking that she’ll be singing again… only now into the recesses of my children’s hearts. She’ll be smoothing the wrinkles in our paths, whispering on the wind, “Everything is alright.”
I hope at the end of my life I will have been able to be an angel on earth for my own children, the way my grandmother was for us.
Tonight, as Keegan whimpers a little before sleep, I whisper to him, “I’ll always be here for you if you need me; I promise I’ll always be here.” And I mean it with every fiber of my being. If something should ever take me away from these kids, I’ll just have to become the morning mist kissing their cheeks, the bright star that shines for them in the darkness. No matter what, I’ll be there, with all the love in my heart.
As Keegan begins to drift to sleep, I hear my voice echo inside me as I say, “Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight,” and then I know how very alive my Ninny is in me.